Community & Education Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Polytechnic University students end hunger strike after school backs down over censorship row

Three students at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University have ended a 44-hour-long hunger strike after the school agreed to their demands on Sunday.

The students were protesting the university’s decision to take back parts of the “Democracy Wall,” a campus bulletin board. The decision was made after the student union refused to remove messages supporting Hong Kong independence, which started appearing on the wall in late September.

Poly U hunger strike

Victor Yuen Pak-leung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Lam Wing-hang and Victor Yuen Pak-leung, who lead the Polytechnic University’s student union and the union council respectively, started a hunger strike late on Friday after negotiations failed. They were joined by Hendrick Lui Chi-hang, a master’s student from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The school backed down on Sunday, allowing the student union to resume control over all of the Democracy Wall.

“At around 5 pm today, the student union was told that the school has returned control back to us, and promised not to interfere with our management,” the student union said in a statement on Sunday.

In a separate statement, the university said the student union had agreed to restore the wall to its original mode of operation and manage the wall in “accordance with the rules and regulations agreed by both parties.”

Victor Yuen Pak-leung, Lam Wing-hang, Hazel Cheng

From right: Victor Yuen Pak-leung, Lam Wing-hang, Hazel Cheng. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Hazel Cheng Yuet-ting, the student union’s external vice-president, told reporters that messages related to Hong Kong independence will not be censored.

“The student union does not oppose the content of any expression, and will not actively take them down from the wall,” Cheng said, adding that the union made no agreement with the school specifically on pro-independence messages.

Lennon Wall

Since September 24, the student union converted parts of the Democracy Wall to a “Lennon wall” in commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, during which a similar wall was set up in Admiralty.

Poly U hunger strike democracy wall

The ‘Lennon Wall’ at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Compared to the Democracy Wall, a long-term fixture on campus, the Lennon Wall had more relaxed guidelines on what messages could be posted.

Messages supporting Hong Kong independence and the now-banned Hong Kong National Party first appeared on September 27, a day after similar posts were found at the University of Hong Kong. It remains unclear who was responsible for the posts.

The university said the Lennon Wall modification broke regulations and so they asked the student union to remove it. The student union rejected the demand, saying that it infringed upon students’ freedom of speech.

Poly U hunger strike democracy wall

Poly U students broadcast their message on the school’s open day. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

In response, the school taped red-coloured paper over the Lennon Wall on September 29, declaring that it had taken back the responsibility for managing the wall, which was previously only “delegated” to students.

Unsuccessful negotiations

After requests for a meeting went unanswered, a group of around 10 students went to the office of the school’s executives and demanded an explanation last Thursday. Multiple students and security personnel fell on the ground during a physical altercation, which the school later condemned as “unruly behaviour.” The university also said the students blockaded two school executives in their office.

The student union proposed an open forum for the next day, but school representatives did not show up, leading the students to begin their hunger strike.

Poly U hunger strike democracy wall

Protesters from the anti-independence Treasure Friendship Group. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The hunger strike started on Friday evening, and coincided with the university’s open day the next day. Groups of pro-Beijing protesters also showed up to condemn the students’ behaviour, accusing them of advocating Hong Kong independence.

Student unions from six Hong Kong universities also declared their solidarity with the striking students on Saturday.

Polytechnic University students end hunger strike after school backs down over censorship row